In a rarity for Santa Rosa, just six candidates are competing for four City Council seats this fall. The small field is even more of an anomaly given that two positions on the seven-member council are up for grabs given that Gary Wysocky and Erin Carlstrom have decided not to seek re-election.
All the same, there’s no shortage of qualified candidates to fill those slots.
Among the six in this election, our endorsements go to incumbents Ernesto Olivares and Julie Combs and newcomers Chris Rogers and Jack Tibbetts.
A former police lieutenant, Olivares, 58, is seeking his third term, having won his seat on the council in 2008 soon after retiring from the Santa Rosa Police Department after nearly 30 years of service. On the council, he has been a more conservative, business-oriented voice.
Combs, 59, is seeking her second term. With a background in engineering, Combs is known for bringing thoughtful analysis to the agenda discussions. Before her election, she was instrumental in the founding of the Neighborhood Association for Bennett Valley and helped establish the Southeast Greenway Campaign, and she has remained a strong voice for neighborhoods.
Combs and Olivares are in many ways a contrast in political perspectives. Combs was a leader in recent council efforts to adopt rent stabilization and just-cause eviction. Olivares opposed the rent control initiative, preferring, as a response to soaring rents, that the council focus on bolstering the city’s supply of rental units by streamlining the permitting process.
Combs and Olivares represent important perspectives on the council. More important, they’ve helped create a new spirit of cooperation on the City Council, one that has served the city well in addressing such complex issues as creating a local regulatory framework for medicinal marijuana. As a means of ensuring preservation of this new culture on the council, Combs and Olivares should receive new terms.
Among the other candidates, Chris Rogers stands out for his experience in government service and public policy, which will allow him to hit the ground running. Rogers, 29, a native of Santa Rosa, has served as a senior staff member for several legislators, including, most recently, state Sen. Mike McGuire. He now works for a Santa Rosa-based green energy company and is a member of the city’s Community Advisory Board, where he is chairman of the capital improvement subcommittee. Rogers has a clear command of many critical issues including housing, roads and medicinal marijuana regulation and would be a clear asset to the council.
For the final seat, we were torn between Don Taylor, 57, who owns Omelette Express restaurants in Railroad Square and Windsor, and Jack Tibbetts, 25, a member of the city’s Board of Public Utilities. Taylor, a former city planning commissioner and leader in Santa Rosa’s sister city relationship with Jeju City, South Korea, has been a candidate in several previous elections. Four years ago, he finished fifth in a nine-person race for four seats. An opponent of rent control, Taylor would be a strong representative for the business community.
But our support goes to Tibbetts, who enters this race with a higher level of enthusiasm and preparation for tackling the key issues facing the city. A graduate of UC Berkeley, Tibbetts has worked for the Sonoma County Economic Development Board and is currently the community and government affairs director for California Clean Power. He is articulate, ambitious and energetic — and has the potential to bring new ways of thinking to the council.